Our History



The Development of the Tillikum Lens Program

Tillikum is a Chinook word that means people (or nation or tribe) but really it is people. The Chinook language was once used from California to Alaska by all people from around the world to communicate. It was the unifying language of this region and it allowed people to share their stories and cultures. While the language has fallen into disuse it can still unite us through the Tillikum Lens, the People’s Lens. We look through a lens to gain different perspectives and understanding and in this project it means a camera lens – telling stories through images.

Images are powerful storytellers – it is often said that an image tells a thousand words. Images are also very strong emotional statements and give great empowerment to the creators of those images. They transcend languages and cultures to communicate with all people.

How often do we say ‘Let me show you” when we can’t explain in words?vMan_with_spear

This project is inspired by a story behind the wall of images at the Osoyoos Desert Cultural Centre which show paintings done by the children of the Osoyoos school in the 1930’s; images and stories which were instrumental in keeping the school on Osoyoos land and under Osoyoos Band control. Images, in particular photography, are very powerful tools to enable youth to tell their story from their perspective. Here is a link to the story and the images which inspired this project:


In association with the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations (Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw and  Lil’wat7ul) and in collaboration with an interdisciplinary group of Liu Scholars, the International Sustainability Education Foundation (ISEF) is creating “The Tillikum Lens” an annual program focused on empowering indigenous youth by enabling them to tell their own stories through images. We are creating a program which will feature internationally known photographers teaching local indigenous youth from these communities how to document their lives and stories through images.